Tragedy has a way of putting everything into perspective, a truism that's brought into sharp relief by the Dave Matthews Band. LeRoi Moore, the group's saxophonist, died in 2008, something that shook the DMB to their core and they've responded as any working band does: by carrying on, playing gigs -- including one on the day of his passing -- and finishing the album they were recording at the time of his death, turning Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King into a tribute to their fallen comrade. By saluting his spirit, DMB wind up returning to their roots, jettisoning any of the well-manicured crossover pop of Stand Up and reviving the loose-limbed jams that were their '90s specialty, a sound they've largely abandoned -- at least on record -- since 1998's Before These Crowded Streets. During that long, long decade between Before and Big Whiskey, DMB remained one of America's biggest bands even though much of those ten years found Matthews working through various existential crises -- things got too big so he pulled away from the band, turned out a dark solo record, then came back -- and his namesake band drifted along with him. Here, everything snaps back into focus: what was glossy is now clean and unvarnished; there is no avoidance of their rangy, loping rhythms or predilection for elastic solos; and these signatures -- shunned on record, not on-stage -- are embraced warmly, given muscle, and married to the dark undercurrents that have flowed throughout Matthews' new-millennium writing. Surely, Moore's early death weighs heavily here -- he is the GrooGrux King of the album's title and there are many allusions to him in lyrics -- but Matthews also ties in references to Hurricane Katrina and war, all as part of his wide-open meditations on mortality and morality. Not all of Big Whiskey is about death: there is an equal amount of love tunes, plus one of Matthews' casually vulgar sex songs, all celebrating enduring relationships, providing a counterpoint to the waves of melancholy. But what makes Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King the Dave Matthews Band's richest, and quite possibly best, album is the implicit message that all the love and loss can be felt and shared through the music, that the creation of the music itself is the reason why they're here -- and that's not just a moving tribute to LeRoi Moore, it's a reason for the band to keep moving on.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine